What Surprised Most In Draft Of Tiders?

AJ McCarron

At the risk of sounding like Nick Saban – or, more appropriately, AJ McCarron (Saban Lite as some Crimson Tide beat reporters referred to him) – there is nothing about the NFL draft that can surprise me. At least going back to 1975 and Woodrow Lowe lasting until the fifth round, I have concluded that NFL scouts are on a different wavelength.

Without question in examining the reaction to Alabama football fans at BamaMag.com, there was surprise and anger at Bama quarterback A.J. McCarron not being drafted until the fifth round. McCarron had an outstanding Crimson Tide career, one that now dominates the Alabama record book. He was an All-America and the Heisman Trophy runner-up for the 2013 season.

But McCarron's selection so late in the draft was overshadowed by the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, not being selected first. Or second. Or top ten or top 20.

In some respects, McCarron and Manziel were victims of the same general thinking; and it is legitimate thinking. Will they be as good in the NFL as they were in college? Specifically, as regards Manziel, it was will that style of play work against elite defenders? Although we don't have a dog in that fight, we believe that a quarterback who can run and who can throw is the toughest possible assignment for a defense. Manziel certainly had his way with Bama's defense.

It was probably a different question regarding McCarron, who is known primarily for winning – as in quarterbacking the Crimson Tide to back-to-back national championships. The question the NFL had to ask was whether McCarron was the leader of those championship teams or merely the beneficiary of Nick Saban recruiting that put high-powered stars all around McCarron. Is he a play-maker or a game manager?

Following the draft, there was an avalanche of rumors regarding McCarron's attitude in his interviews with NFL executives. Our only insight into this is the way the Alabama starter of the past three years conducted himself in interviews with reporters trying to cover him and the Crimson Tide. To say that following Greg McElroy in this role was difficult is an understatement. McElroy gave respectful attention and intelligent answers to questions. McCarron was much less likely to provide insight and much more likely to talk down to reporters.

That said, even if true regarding his interviews with NFL brass, it was unlikely to be more than a slight factor in drafting McCarron to the pay-for-play game.

It is also a given that a team doesn't care where a player is drafted once the competition begins. If a man is good enough to make it in the NFL, barring some big – tremendously big, based on what we've seen over the years – character flaw, the man will make a bountiful living.

It wasn't a surprise that McCarron was a fifth-round pick, but it wouldn't have been a surprise if he had been a first rounder, either. And it won't be a surprise whether he is a star or a bust or something in between in his NFL career.

It certainly was not a surprise that the first Alabama player taken in the draft was C.J. Mosley, taken in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens (where Crimson Tide legend Ozzie Newsome is general manager). Safety HaHa Clinton-Dix was the second Tider nabbed, also a first rounder, going to Green Bay.

When offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio got his draft status grade prior to the Sugar Bowl, he was considered a first round draft choice. Almost no one would say that Kouandjio did anything to help his status in his game against the Sooners in which Alabama was beaten 45-31. Moreover, there were no good reports about his work in the NFL combine and in workouts for the pro scouts. If he had maintained that first round status, it would have been a mild surprise. In any event, he was an early second round pick, which means he is a very fine prospect for the Buffalo Bills, and it probably was not a mistake for him to leave Bama after his junior season.

It wasn't a surprise that Kevin Norwood lasted until the fourth round. Teams no doubt thought they could take more high-profile players and that Norwood would be around for a while. He was around until the Seattle Seahawks picked him up, and it won't be a surprise if Norwood is a help to the Seahawks.

McCarron wasn't even the first Alabama player taken in the fifth round. That "honor" went to defensive end Ed Stinson, taken by the Arizona Cardinals. Stinson was a two-year starter and three-year regular on great Bama squads, but never made a splash individually, so his low draft status was not a surprise.

After McCarron was taken by the Cincinnati Bengals, the New Orleans Saints selected safety Vinnie Sunseri. Sunseri had already done his surprising when he announced he was going into the draft. He had another year or eligibility remaining, and almost everyone thought he needed another year of college football. But he was a fifth round pick when it might not have been a surprise if he had gone undrafted.

Another surprising defection from Alabama after his junior season was defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan, and he, too, could have been undrafted and it would not have surprised Bama fans. He was selected, though, as the Houston Texans took him with the first pick in the sixth round.

That was the eighth player from Alabama selected, which was second to LSU's nine players drafted.

In the last six NFL Drafts (the Saban drafts, as it were), Alabama has had 41 players selected, including 16 players in the first round. Bama has a record with having had two or more players taken in the first round of the past five drafts. Bama failed to extend its record of five consecutive years with a top ten draft pick.

The Southeastern Conference led the nation with 49 selections, the eighth year in a row for the SEC to have the most players drafted.

No fewer than five former Tiders have signed free agent contracts, and it was a surprise that as many as three of those five were not drafted.

Punter Cody Mandell not being drafted was not a surprise, but neither was it a surprise that he was quick to sign a free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys. Punter and kickers are evaluated and signed outside the draft in most cases.

Anthony Steen was a three-year starter at right guard on outstanding Alabama offensive teams, but Steen had to have surgery on his shoulder following the regular season. He was unable to work out for pro scouts. As a result, he was not drafted, but he did sign a free agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals.

Alabama started the season with Deion Belue and John Fulton playing the cornerback positions. Cornerback is a spot that had provided junior NFL first round draftees Dre Kirkpatrick and Dee Milliner over the past two years from Alabama. Belue and Fulton were not first rounders. In fact, it was not a surprise they were not drafted. Belue has signed a free agent contract with Miami and Fulton with Philadelphia.

Adrian Hubbard never really lived up to the expectations he brought as an Alabama linebacker. He had been expected to be another Courtney Upshaw, but had a rather quiet career, even though he started his final two seasons at Bama. He was eligible to go to the NFL draft after the 2012 season and considered it, but elected to return. He could have played another year at Bama after that, but elected to go into this year's NFL draft. Some projected him as a high draft pick, so it was surprising that he was not selected at all. He signed a free agent contract with the Green Bay Packers. The big surprise was that Hubbard said he was passed over because of a minor heart abnormality, and that he will have to pass a physical before embarking on a pro career.

Linebacker Tana Patrick was never a star at Alabama, but Tide players called him one of the team's hardest hitters. He signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Bears.

There was one surprise there. Patrick's free agent signing bonus was $750.

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